IT Career Paths Guide
Information Technology (IT) continues to change how we live, play, and do business, so it should come as no surprise that IT is among the fastest-growing sectors of the American workforce and will continue for years.
The dominance of the information technology job market is due to numerous factors, including the rapid growth of the Internet and e-commerce, increased demand for information security specialists spurred by escalating cyber attacks, the advent of more innovative applications enabling companies to analyze business data for unprecedented intelligence, cloud computing revolutionizing the way IT departments operate, and the proliferation of mobile devices.
It is excellent news for established information technology professionals and those beginning an IT career path. However, despite rapid growth and increased opportunity, simply showing up will not guarantee success. The IT job market will continue to get more competitive as people follow money and jobs. Therefore, it’s essential to identify your tech career objectives and develop a learning plan with the necessary skills, computer training, and IT certifications to build a competitive edge and achieve your goals.
Understanding the current technology career landscape is your first step. This blog details some of the most sought-after IT careers based on earning power, growth potential, job outlook, and excitement. Click the button below each tech job summary for a deep-dive job description.
In-Demand IT Careers
IT Security Specialist
Overview: Also known as cybersecurity or information security analysts, these professionals defend an organization’s data and computer systems. In light of continued devastating cyber attacks and the sheer amount of vulnerabilities in modern information systems, the career prospects for IT security specialists are astronomical.
Requirements: Most entry-level jobs in IT security require at least a bachelor’s degree. In cybersecurity, information assurance, computer science, or a related field. Cybersecurity certifications like those from (ISC)², ISACA, and EC-Council are also helpful.
Average Salary: $104,000
Machine Learning Engineer
Overview: Machine learning engineers design and develop predictive models that enable computers to learn and adjust without explicit programming. These complex models recognize data patterns, generate predictions, and make decisions based on available inputs.
Requirements: Most jobs in machine learning require at least a bachelor’s degree in computer science and experience in AI, ML, and data science. Additionally, senior machine learning engineer positions often require an advanced degree in machine learning, artificial intelligence, data analytics, or a related field.
Average Salary: $120,000
Overview: Data scientists, a.k.a. data analysts, scrutinize business data for actionable intelligence. These professionals mine and analyze data from various sources, such as customer transactions, global satellite plots, click streams, and more, to find predictive insights to influence business decisions and spark a competitive advantage.
Requirements: Most data scientist jobs require advanced degrees like an MBA, Master’s, or even a Ph.D. Some entry-level roles can be achieved with a specialized bachelors in areas like business intelligence, computer science, and data analytics.
Average Salary: $121,000
User Interface Developer
Overview: User interface (UI) developers are a unique subset of software creators who shape how we interact with applications. Their key responsibility is to create an interface that behaves as a user would expect, thus fostering an intuitive experience. UI developers ply their trade on websites, software systems, mobile applications, and other connected devices.
Requirements: Most user interface developer jobs require a bachelor’s in computer science, software engineering, human-computer interaction, or a similar field. As with similar IT-meets-creative career paths, a strong portfolio of work will go a long way.
Average Salary: $91,000
Help Desk Technician
Overview: Help desk technicians, a.k.a. IT support specialists, provide technical support for technology end-users. This typically involves diagnosing and fixing hardware, software, and network issues, installing and configuring new technologies, and repairing broken devices. IT help desk pros can work either remotely or on-site.
Requirements: No college degree is required for most entry-level help desk careers. Relevant IT certifications or associate degrees will help boost job opportunities and pay.
Average Salary: $48,000
Mobile Application Developer
Overview: Mobile application developers create software, a.k.a. apps, for mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. Special tools of the trade include programming languages like Java and Kotlin for developing Android apps, as well as Objective-C and Swift for developing iOS applications.
Requirements: Most roles require a bachelor’s degree in computer science, software engineering, mobile development, or a related subject.
Average Salary: $107,000
Overview: Web developers build websites and web-based applications. There are three main types of web developers: front-end web devs write code that controls the client-facing parts of the website (look, feel & functionality), back-end web devs write the code that makes things work behind the scenes (such as how the site communicates with the database), and full-stack developers who work across both of these domains.
Requirements: Prerequisites for this technology job vary widely; some roles demand a bachelor’s in web development or computer science. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, other positions accept applicants with associate degrees or high school diplomas. Some web developers are 100% self-taught.
Average Salary: $77,000
Overview: Network administrators set up and manage computer networks and telecommunications systems that keep information flowing. These IT pros configure and maintain network hardware and software and ensure that solid networks remain quick, secure, and available.
Requirements: Most network administration positions require a bachelors in IT, network management, or a related field of study. Some entry-level roles can be achieved with relevant certifications or an associate degree.
Average Salary: $69,000
Video Game Designer
Overview: Game designers merge creativity, technical expertise, and a passion for gaming to build the next generation of video games and simulations. Professionals in this space usually fall into three categories: game designers, artists, or developers.
Requirements: Most game design careers require a bachelor’s in computer science, game design, software engineering, or graphic design. A diverse portfolio of work is also helpful for landing a game design job.
Average Salary: $80,000
Overview: Graphic designers fuse artistic talent with skills in leading design apps like Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator to create visually engaging graphics that convey a message. Unlike most IT career paths, graphic designers with an entrepreneurial spirit can go into business for themselves with relative ease.
Requirements: Most graphic designers have a bachelors in fine arts, graphic design, multimedia production, or a related field. A strong portfolio of work is also required in this role.
Average Salary: $57,000
Health Information Technician
Overview: Health information technicians manage patients’ electronic medical records and other health data. Marketable career specializations for health IT professionals include medical billing, medical coding, and cancer registry.
Requirements: Entry-level health IT jobs typically require an associate degree in health information management or a similar field. Industry certifications like those from AHIMA are also helpful.
Average Salary: $46,000
Overview: Database administrators, a.k.a. DBAs, sort and manage an organization’s data. Special skills include designing, maintaining, and securing databases in popular database management systems like Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle, MySQL, and PostgreSQL.
Requirements: Most DBA jobs demand a bachelor’s in IT, database management, or information systems. Senior database roles may require a master’s degree in analytics, management information systems, or a related field.
Average Salary: $99,000
Overview: Professional drafters create technical schematics for products, structures, and complex systems. Autodesk’s AutoCAD program is the tech industry’s leading CADD (computer-aided drafting and design) software. Drafters usually specialize in civil, architectural, electrical, or mechanical drafting.
Requirements: Many entry-level drafting positions can be achieved with a high school diploma plus a targeted drafting certificate from a community college or technical institution. Relevant associate and bachelor’s degrees will improve job prospects.
Average Salary: $58,000
Overview: Software engineers, a.k.a. software developers, build computer systems and applications. Wielding computer science and programming skills, these sought-after professionals design, develop, and improve the programs we rely on daily, such as business and productivity apps, operating systems, and social networks.
Requirements: Software engineers typically need a bachelor’s degree in computer science, computer engineering, software development, or a similar field.
Average Salary: $105,000
Information Technology Manager
Overview: IT managers plan, orchestrate, and support information technology projects. Depending on the organization’s size, technology managers work closely with executives and department leads to identify, direct, and manage computing solutions that drive business goals.
Requirements: Most information technology manager roles call for a bachelor’s degree in an area like IT or computer information systems (CIS). Some positions require a master’s in management information systems (MIS) or a related field. In addition, 5-10 years of related work experience is often indicated.
Average Salary: $152,000
Computer Systems Analyst
Overview: Systems analysts are tasked with understanding an organization’s entire computer systems, identifying opportunities to upgrade these systems for increased efficiency, and managing the design and implementation of these improvements. With the power and importance of computer systems constantly rising – along with technology budgets – systems analysts are and will continue to be a vital part of the IT workforce.
Requirements: Most systems analyst positions require a bachelor’s degree in computer information systems, systems analysis, business intelligence, or a related major. Some companies prefer candidates with graduate degrees like an MBA or Masters in MIS.
Average Salary: $94,000
IT Project Manager
Overview: IT project managers oversee large-scale technology initiatives, ensuring that projects are carried out on schedule, under budget, and according to specifications. These business-minded IT professionals plan and coordinate internal staffers, external contractors and consultants, and the leadership team to deliver technology projects successfully.
Requirements: Information technology project managers need at least a bachelor’s degree in project management, business administration, or a related field. Some roles require master’s degrees, such as an MBA. Marketable PM certifications, like the PMP, will boost prospects.
Average Salary: $129,000
Requirements: Some programmers earn a CS bachelor’s degree, while others can get hired with an associate degree or specialized certificate from a programming boot camp. An increasing number of coders are also self-taught.
Average Salary: $73,000
Chief Information Officer
Overview: CIO is the granddaddy of all IT career paths. This executive sets forth the top-level technology goals of the organization, then oversees budgeting, personnel, purchasing, and other projects to achieve those goals. The buck stops with the CIO for all things tech-related — especially internal IT, i.e., everything about in-house computer systems and personnel (external IT, i.e., customer-facing technology products, is usually handled by the chief technology officer or CTO).
Requirements: Some CIO positions require a bachelor’s degree and 10+ years of relevant experience, though many more also require a graduate degree such as an MBA or Masters in MIS.
Average Salary: $238,000
Computer Hardware Engineer
Overview: Hardware engineers merge technology, electronics, and engineering expertise to design and build computer systems. These IT professionals also develop individual computing components such as microchips, processors, circuit boards, and peripherals like mice, printers, and keyboards.
Requirements: Hardware engineering roles typically require a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering, computer science, or electrical engineering.
Average Salary: $99,000
Overview: Computer scientists have the challenging and exciting responsibility of researching and developing new technologies. Also called information research scientists, these professionals work in numerous industries, including hardware and software design, research and academia, and the federal government (in areas like NASA and the defense sector).
Requirements: Computer scientist positions typically require an advanced degree like a Master’s or Ph.D. in computer science, computer engineering, information systems, electrical engineering, or a similar field.
Average Salary: $102,000
Overview: Computer animators design 3D graphics and visual effects for various mediums, including television, movies, video games, and the Web. These creative pros use computers to ply their trade (versus the hand drawings of traditional animators). Recent advances in animation technology, plus the increased popularity and scope of devices used to access entertainment, have made computer animation one of the most rewarding careers for technically-inclined artists.
Requirements: Computer animation jobs typically require a bachelor’s in computer animation, multimedia design, fine arts, or a related field.
Average Salary: $70,000
Computer Network Architect
Overview: Network architects plan and design enterprise computer networks. These IT professionals merge hands-on computer hardware and software skills with a deep understanding of the organization’s goals to develop an efficient, secure, and scalable network to meet strategic objectives.
Requirements: Most computer network architect jobs require a bachelor’s degree in network management, information technology, or computer information systems. 5+ years of relevant experience is usually required too.
Average Salary: $112,000
Overview: These highly specialized engineers design and create robots and robotic systems. Robotics engineers typically fall into one of three categories: CADD (computer-aided drafting and design) professionals who develop the blueprints for robotic systems, Builders who work in the hands-on creation of robots, and Research & Development.
Requirements: Robotic engineering jobs typically require at least a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, electronic engineering, computer science, or a related discipline.
Average Salary: $100,000
Overview: Cloud engineers plan, develop, and support an organization’s cloud-based solutions. Professionals in this rapidly growing space usually fall into one of three skill areas: Cloud architects who plan and design the distributed application infrastructure, Cloud developers who write the code that brings the architect’s plans to life, and Cloud support specialists who troubleshoot support cloud computing solutions.
Requirements: This varies based on which of the above skills areas you fall into, but overall, most cloud engineering roles demand at least a bachelor’s in computer science, information systems, software development, or a related field. Be sure to load up on cloud computing electives.
Average Salary: $119,000
Overview: DevOps engineers merge expertise in programming, testing, integration, systems architecture, and project management to deliver successful software solutions. This sought-after IT career path evolved from the agile development methodology, which takes a collaborative and iterative approach to software creation. As a result, DevOps spurs the continuous evolution of software projects while promoting the partnership between development and operations.
Requirements: Most DevOps jobs require at least a bachelor’s degree in computer science, software development, IT project management, or a related field, along with relevant hands-on experience.
Average Salary: $127,000